From Endurance to Dressage
When Work is Scarier than Halloween
This has been a very long, and staying with the season, scary past five days. We've been doing parent/teacher conferences all week. Insert blood curdling scream here. I am tired, cranky, and just need some peace and quiet.
I used to love Halloween, but after working with kids all day long, I find that I resent my doorbell being rung every twelve seconds by kiddos who want me to put down my glass of wine to give them candy. So, my husband and I boycott the festivities by going out for dinner or leaving town. This year, we're going to the cabin.
Since I am not a total killjoy, enjoy this little spook-graphic from Mary's Tack and Feed. It's perfect for the horse lover who likes halloween stuff but doesn't want to do the doorbell ringing part. Happy Halloween and see you all Monday!
Halloween is nearly upon us and everyone knows the ghastly villains, but what about their horses? Mary's Tack & Feed takes a look at some of the spookiest equines that have haunted stories through the ages.<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.marystack.com">http://www.marystack.com</a>/
My Soap Box Rant
Lecturing on a soap box is a bit arrogant unless you have something to say that people actually want to hear. Otherwise, you're just some weirdo spouting off cockamamie ideas that make people roll their eyes and cross the street to get away from your idiocy.
Knowing that, I am climbing up. You can roll your eyes and walk away, or you can gather and shout amen, sister! with the rest of the believers ... Dressage is incredibly hard. Showing dressage is even harder still.
After I finished my first test of the weekend, I left the arena feeling a bit grouchy and made that statement to my trainer. It's not that I resent doing things that are difficult. I thrive on demanding work. The more onerous, the better. Give me something that stretches me to my limit, and I am a happy camper. Weenie babies don't ride 100 miles through freezing cold temperatures in a single day. I did, more than a few times, and loved every minute of it.
What used to drive me nuts about endurance riding was all the people who would claim that they too were endurance riders. Whenever they were asked which endurance races they had done, they would claim that they just "conditioned" their horses in endurance saddles or had done 10 - 15 mile fun rides.
Sorry, simply using an endurance saddle to get your horse fit doesn't make you an endurance rider. You have to actually ride an endurance distance on a prescribed course under a vet's observation. And doing it more than once helps. That's what makes an endurance rider.
I am sure you can see where this is going.
As I finished that test and groused about this sport being difficult, what I really meant was that unless someone is actually showing at USDF-rated shows, they don't know how hard it really is to put it all together in front of a judge, make it look easy, and get a good score. It's hard, really hard.
When we ride at home, we can repeat the transition over and over. We can ride that figure twice until it feels balanced. If we're not ready for that canter departure at C, we circle back around and give it another go. Or, we pick it up at M. Who is going to notice the difference? At a show, the rider has to string all of the movements together without any do-overs.
That's what makes showing so hard. We don't get a second, third, or twelfth chance to get it just right. It has to be done correctly then and there, ready or not. So even if someone's horse has a few lovely flying changes at home, until they have to get five 4s from H to F with the third one landing at X, those changes don't mean much. And they mean even less if the rider can't follow it up with five 3s across the other diagonal. That was for Jen and her Prix St Georges test this weekend. Ask her if riding it correctly in front of a judge is easy or hard.
The thing about showing at a USDF-rated show is that the judges aren't cutting you any slack. It's not their job to make you feel good. It is their job to give you legitimate, honest, and helpful feedback. The judges at fun shows or schooling shows ARE there to encourage you and give you softball scores. That's their job. They're trying to get you to come back. They want you to feel good about showing so you'll pay your USDF money and help the sport grow.
I know many people will disagree with this viewpoint. Many riders feel that the judging at schooling shows is equal to that at USDF-rated shows. Maybe. I only show here in California, but I find it awfully difficult to believe that the L Program Graduates would change their style just because they live in another region of the US. The USDF and USEF work very hard to standardize judging around the country.
When I was still competing in endurance races, I loved those shorter distances for introducing a horse to his job. As a dressage rider, I've done many schooling shows for the same reason. There's no sense spending all that money on a USDF show until you know how your horse will deal with new venues, judges' booths, and the stresses of showing,
Until you can put it all together in front of a USEF judge at a USDF show, preferably one that holds his or her "S" license (Senior Judge), it might be best to hold off a bit on the celebration. Those USEF judges are tougher than they look.
So that's it. That's my rant. I am getting down from my soap box. What's your feeling on judging and scores?
Hold Onto Your Hats!
Chemaine wasn't able to coach me on Sunday because she had a schooling show to attend with a different group of students. I am totally fine going to a show myself and wasn't fazed by her absence. Don't get me wrong - it's way more fun when she's there, but I've been hauling my horses to competitions for several decades on my own, so it's no big deal to fly solo.
As it was, she coached both me and another student on Friday and Saturday, so I was more than grateful for her time. She had other places to be. As a side note, that other student rode her very first Prix St. Georges test to earn a 63%. We were all really proud of her!
Chemaine's advice was to warm up with lots of half halts and then push Speedy for MORE! I am not always sure what we need MORE of, but I asked for it in the warm up.
He was ridiculously heavy on the left rein, so I did about 10,000 half halts followed by GO. I did every kind of transition within each gait that I could think of. My whole focus was to get a JUMP forward when I asked for it. When I asked for a half halt, I kept asking until he got soft, and then I sent him forward again with the expectation that he JUMP!
In all honesty, that warm up was a total crap shoot. Speedy and I probably looked like a pair of dorks zooming around the warm up only to halt a few strides later. GO!!!! STOP!!!! GO!!!! Fortunately it was a huge warm up ring and the show was small, so I had the space pretty much to myself. There was the Spanish guy galloping around, but he seemed to know what he was doing and proved quite adept at staying out of my way.
As we were warming up, all I could think about was just wanting to get the whole thing over with. I was tired and super ready to pack it up and head home. When First Level Test 2 was over, I left the ring shaking my head wondering what in the holy hell had just happened. It felt terrible. Speedy was so heavy in my hands that I was forced to jerk on him for every transition. I have no photographic or video evidence of this, which is why it's hard to believe the score we earned.
How is it that we scored better on Sunday than we had on Saturday? The judge gave us a 66.093%. For an Adult Amateur, that's a pretty solid score and one that I'll never turn my nose at. The only thing that I can say is those half halts must have done something, and that feeling of being nearly out of control is one that I should probably start trying to repeat.
My First Level Test 3 ride was just a few minutes after what I was considering "The Disaster" of test 2. There wasn't time to check the scores between the two rides, so I didn't know that the judge had actually "liked" our attempt at test 2. If I had been wanting to get test 2 over and done with, the desire to fast forward past test 3 was almost enough to make me want to scratch.
I am too cheap to throw in the towel though, so unless the TD or judge force me to quit, I am riding no matter how bad I think it's going to go. When I halted and saluted at X for the final time of the weekend, I thanked the judge like I always do, and then told her how happy I was to be done with THAT.
I patted Speedy's neck like I do after every ride, but I shook my head in frustration. How disappointing to work so hard for so little reward. That's what was going through my head as we passed by A. Up in the barn, several people complimented my rides, which I found slightly embarrassing. I was certain both scores were in the 57% range.
I finally stiffened my backbone and trudged over to the show office. I ran my finger down the list of rides squinting through half closed eyes. When I got to the first score from test 2, I did a double take. A what?!?! I shook my head in disbelief. But there it was for all the world to see - a 66.093%. I slid my finger down a bit further and saw the score for test 3. Not only was it slightly higher than Saturday's score at 62.794%, I had actually outscored another rider for a fourth blue ribbon.
Over the course of the weekend, Speedy and I somehow managed to bring home four very satisfactory scores. I am always grateful to break 60%, and the truth is most of my scores are above 60. Anything lower feels like a miss. As time goes on though, I have come to recognize that we are capable of high 60s and low 70s, so just eking out a 60% is not exactly a win anymore.
The judge said it best on my final test:
Nice horse with ability to perform much better. You must get him more forward and correctly into the contact so he accepts the bit and energy travels through the back. Only then will half halts work, and he will start to carry instead of fall on his forehand. - Sue Kolstad, Judge at C
No judge has ever written a better summation of my test. She absolutely nailed it. Chemaine has her work cut out for her to be sure. I think all three of us are up to the challenge though.
I still have some soapbox stuff I want to share, so there's a bit more coming about the show. In the meantime, what's your cut off score for an acceptable ride?
Move Your Bloomin' Arse!
I've been a fan of Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle since I first saw My Fair Lady as a kid. I love everything about the movie - Eliza's dresses, the music (oh, the music!), and that great horse racing scene where you don't see the horses but you hear them thundering past. Eliza very coarsely hollers out that infamous line, "Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin' arse!"
While I was watching our First Level Test 3 video from Saturday, I found myself urging Speedy on. Come on dude, move your bloomin' arse! As we rode, it felt like Speedy was zooming through the test. Boy, was I wrong. It looks like he's stuck in molasses. No wonder we earned our lowest score of the weekend on that test.
It's quite a steady ride, but there is nothing special happening. There is no energy, no impulsion ... nothing but quiet and submission (most of the time). That's great if you want scores in the low 60s, which is what I got - 62.500%. Chemaine reminded me that to get scores in the high 60s or 70s, I need to channel the nearly out of control so that it looks controlled. That's when we'll score higher.
I liked how this ride felt, but it seems that I need to develop a different type of feel for what is a good ride. I know they call it positive tension. Izzy has it all the time even though it wavers between out of control and ooh baby. It might be that Speedy just doesn't really have the personality, or work ethic, for that kind of energy. I am going to have to learn to get Speedy ramped up at least a little more and then channel that new energy.
I don't think this was a bad or disappointing ride; we actually outscored the second rider in the class. Right now, breaking 60% at First Level is my goal, but by spring, I want to be consistently scoring in the mid to high 60s, especially if I want to move to 2nd Level by late summer.
I know that our move through the levels (Intro and Training) looked just like this. We slowly built from high 50s to high 60s with a few bobbles here and there. And it has been quite characteristic for us to start scoring well at Test 2 before Test 3, which is exactly what we did this weekend.
I don't have media from Sunday, but I'll share our rides from day two tomorrow as my scores didn't turn out the way I expected. I think there's a lesson in there for me somewhere.
Blue is Wonderful! But ...
Goals met, even exceeded, but I have no idea how.
The only ride that I thought went quite well was Saturday's First Level Test 3, but that ride earned us our lowest score of the weekend, a 62.500%.
On Friday evening, I had a warm up lesson with Chemaine. We worked on the canter lengthening and the trot lengthening, neither of which got any kind of decent score on the tests. The warm up was still productive however since I was able to work Speedy through the spooky corners so that by Saturday, the ring was a non-issue.
We warmed up on Saturday morning like we also do. Having Chemaine there to coach us was reassuring. I wasn't anxious or nervous though, and in fact, I decided not to use Chemaine as reader. She wasn't going to be able to coach me on Sunday, so I memorized the tests like I should have done already this season.
Speedy was heavy, heavy, heavy the whole weekend. In the video below, you can see non-stop head wagging which is so frustrating. This is something from several years ago that has resurfaced. I know it has to do with my ineffective half halts, and I've made Chemaine promise that we're going to be addressing that at our next next lesson.
Normally, after a two-day show, I have oodles of take aways to share. For this show, only a few things stand out.
Here's the score sheet from the first test of the weekend.
We scored a whopping 65% for Saturday's First Level Test 2. My goal was to break 60% so that I could earn my USDF First Level Rider Performance Award. I guess I hit that one out of the park.
I knew I would be the only rider in the class, so I had already expected the blue ribbon. When I went to the show office to pick up my score sheet, I gave a little "Ooh!" at the ribbon laying on my test. They were much nicer than the average ribbon. Earning four of them didn't break my heart one little bit.
I do have some very interesting "soapbox" things I want to share later this week as well as some statistical analysis of all of the show's scores, not just my own. Chemaine was able to video Test 3, so I'll share that tomorrow.
More to follow!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: